Maybe it's to counter-balance the crappy season last year. Maybe it's to counterpoint the entire meh of the past four years. Maybe it's in response to accusations in the comments section of news sites. Maybe it's to convince everyone that the front office really does know what it's doing.
Whatever the reason, I think I've heard the word "championship" come from the Jazz front office more in the past year than at any other time. Which is kinda funny really, when you remember they tanked last year and only won 25 games.
Of course it's possible that the word came out as much in the glory days of Deron Williams-Mehmet Okur-Carlos Boozer-Andrei Kirilenko. SLC Dunk and Twitter were in their infancy at the time, so it wouldn't echo nearly as much. And it probably came out during '96-'99. But the coolest thing on the internet at that time was GeoCities, and ... well ... let's just compare animated gifs of that era vs. ours.
Modern Important gif (h/t Shums)
Or how about this
* * *
So clearly the internet has come a long way since the glory days of John Stockton and Karl Malone. So that is probably a huge factor in how little I came across the word "championship" then compared to now.
It's made me think about how important a championship is to me.
I hear many times that fans don't want the Jazz to continue to be satisfied being a #8 seed. Which is weird to me ... because I can't think of any time (aside from 2011-13) that the team acted this way. They weren't a perpetual #8 seed during Deron's years. They certainly weren't during the glory days of the 90's. Seriously, where did this accusation come from that all the Jazz cared about was being a 7 or 8 seed in the playoffs? From 2 seasons in the team's 35-year history in Utah?
Personally, I will be thrilled with a 7 or 8 seed ... this year or next. For a young team, it's good step (now when it's a veteran team in its prime and this is the best you can do ... then you rethink your plan).
I've also seen a few — not a lot, but a few — suggestions that the Jazz tank again this year. And I wonder about that. (But then I openly didn't like tanking last year, either.)
The other day, I saw several tweets about the Mavs. Specifically that they are not even remotely a contender, especially in the West. And I wondered: "So what?" They won a championship 3 years ago. Isn't it enough now to watch a fun team, to see Dirk Nowitzki ride off into the sunset, and enjoy what good there is?
I guess I'm heavily influenced by past Jazz eras. I don't have a single regret watching the Stockton and Malone era. Would I have loved a championship? Of course. And do I question that the team really did everything to do so? A bit. But whatever. I had 20 years of thrills and cheers. The runs to the Finals were glorious, even if the endings were bitter. And the final three years, watching the team fade, watching Malone and Stockton give a few more good times ... I enjoyed it. I also think they could have been much better ... but that's a post for another day. But whatever ... they were fun times to be a fan.
I feel similarly about the Deron era. As I've said before ... when you look at the talent, at how good the team was in 2010 and 2008, and then when you see they never got higher than a 5 seed ... that team can only be called underachievers. They never realized their potential. Two little runs — about 30 games in 2010 and 50 games in 2008 — were all we had with that team at the height of its powers. But still it had a Conference Finals run in 2007. It was a Boozer meltdown away from the NBA Finals in 2008. And I still think the 1st round win over Denver in 2010—with Memo rupturing his Achilles, with AK's body falling apart (29 total playoff minutes that year), with Deron realizing he had to beat the Nuggets pretty much by himself, with "Fesenko, Fesenko, Fesenko" — that was such a fun series. Even knowing they would be destroyed by the Lakers ... I didn't care. I had a blast. The team gave me plenty to cheer.
I wish both eras could have been better. I wish a couple of different decisions had been made. But I still have no regrets for a single minute I devoted to those teams. None.
* * *
And so we come to our team today. How important is a championship to you? What makes cheering and following the team worth it? A championship? Becoming one of the 4-5 genuine contenders? A regular playoff team? What?
I guess I should say I have high hopes for this team.
I think it's reasonable to hope Gordon Hayward 's shooting comes back to 2011-13 levels (56% TS and 50% eFG) while giving us the mythical 16-4-4 that marks a great wing. I think it's reasonable to hope that Derrick Favors has only shown flashes of what he will become as a scorer, and that a smarter team defense will make him look like the defensive star we always hoped to see. I think it's reasonable to hope that Alec Burks will shine as a scorer when given the chance. I think it's reasonable to hope that Enes Kanter can look more like the 2012-13 version than what we saw last year. I think it's reasonable to hope that Trey Burke will improve on his decent rookie campaign. I think it's a reasonable hope to think Rudy Gobert could be dominant defensively while serviceable offensively. I think it's reasonable to hope that Quin Snyder is a good coach ... he certainly talks the talk at least, and that's more than we've had since February, 2011.
And Dante Exum ... he's got a ways to go. He needs better conditioning. He needs a better shot. I would be genuinely stunned to see him starting this year ... his body just doesn't seem ready. But he's got the raw tools of a really special player. Seriously ... a PG with that speed and that length and that height and that court vision and that kind of passing? Yes. I'll take that.
I have no idea how good the Jazz will be this year. It's probably most reasonable to hope for a modest improvement ... say a win total in the mid-30's. But really, nobody knows. Teams can make jumps with the right kind of players and right kind of coaches.
We can hope.
* * *
But back to the original question? How important is a championship to you?
For me, it's not the end-all and be-all. All I want is a team that is smart, takes reasonable chances, and does everything it can to maximize the opportunities it has. I think a team that does this can absolutely build a great team. But a championship team? Well, you have to throw in a huge dose of luck to get there. There's a reason so few teams win basketball championships ... the right player (Duncan, LeBron, Shaq, MJ, Bird,) simply has such a huge effect on every game and every series.
So no, I don't demand a championship. All I want is a team to do everything it can to try to get there.